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Thomas Balch Library

MissionHistory • Thomas Balch Library Advisory Commission • Loudoun History Awards • Loudoun County Public Schools’ Social Sciences Fair

Thomas Balch Library is a history and genealogy library owned and operated by the Town of Leesburg. Collections focus on Loudoun County, regional and Virginia history, genealogy, military history with special emphasis on the American Civil War, and ethnic history. It is designated as an Underground Railroad research site.


One of the library’s missions is collecting and preserving printed, manuscript, photographic, cartographic and genealogical documentation of Leesburg, Loudoun County and the surrounding region. The library actively seeks and welcomes donations of original business records, diaries, correspondence and photographs documenting life, culture and history of Leesburg and Loudoun County. Library collections include over thirty-two thousand books and periodicals, maps, visual collections, newspapers, government records, and manuscripts. The library offers lectures on history and genealogy, classes, and exhibits. Group tours and orientations are available on request and books about local history are available for purchase on-site. Please contact us to find out more about donating to the library, joining our mailing list, or scheduling a tour.

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First Leesburg Library, 102 Cornwall Street NW
Fishburn House, 102 Cornwall Street NW (Thomas Balch Library Photograph Collection (VC 0001), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA)

Library service in Leesburg started in 1907 when a small private subscription library society was opened in the Fishburn home at the corner of 102 Cornwall Street NW.

In January of 1917 the library society moved to the Bentley House, 30 North King Street, with Virginia Aldridge serving as librarian; the annual subscription fee was $1. In 1918 a town library was established.

Following fundraising efforts and construction, a building was dedicated May 13, 1922 as a memorial tribute to Thomas Balch (1821-1877), father of international arbitration and native of Leesburg.

Second Leesburg Library, Bentley House, 30 North King Street
Bentley House, 30 North King Street. Thomas Balch Library Photograph Collection (VC 0001), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.
Thomas Balch Library ca. 1945
Thomas Balch Library, ca. 1945. Winslow Williams Photograph Collection (VC 0004), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.

The library operated for fifty years under a private Board of Trustees as a subscription library utilizing money from an endowment established by Thomas Willing Balch and Edwin Swift Balch, sons of Thomas Balch. It was staffed by part-time employees and volunteers. In 1960 it became a free, though segregated, public library and in 1965 it was desegregated. In 1974 it joined with the Purcellville, Purcellville Bookmobile and Sterling Libraries as a branch of the recently established (1973) Loudoun County Public Library system serving the community as a full service public library.

In July 1994, Loudoun County transferred ownership of Thomas Balch Library to the Town of Leesburg to be operated as a history and genealogy library. The original building was designed by noted Washington DC architect Waddy B. Wood. In 2000 renovations and a sympathetic two-floor addition, designed by Bowie Gridley, doubled the library’s size. Interior enhancements include a mural and paintings depicting local history, portraits of distinguished local figures, and Thomas Moser furniture.

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Thomas Balch Library Advisory Commission

Thomas Balch Library Advisory Commission consists of seven citizen members appointed by Leesburg Town Council and chosen for their interest in the library; one representative from the Town of Leesburg Council and one representative from the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. Members may include historians, genealogists, and business leaders. All serve as advisors to the library director on collection development and policies and report to Town Council about their activities. They help publicize Thomas Balch Library, sponsor the annual Loudoun History Awards, and work with Friends of the Thomas Balch Library, Inc., to promote and support programs and collections. For additional information, visit the Commission’s webpage.

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Loudoun History Awards
2013 History Awards
2013 Loudoun History Awards Recipients.  Leesburg Today, Leesburg, Va.

The Loudoun History Awards are sponsored by Thomas Balch Library Advisory Commission and hosted by the Thomas Balch Library. They were established to recognize contributions of local historian, John Elbert Divine (1911-1996), in preserving Loudoun County history. Divine was recognized nationally for his knowledge and understanding of the Civil War and regionally for his willingness to share historical information with others. He authored two books in the Virginia Regimental Series on the Civil War: The 8th Virginia Infantry and The 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry.

He also edited To Talk is Treason, an account of Waterford during the Civil War, and co-authored Loudoun County in the Civil War. In addition, he co-founded Loudoun County Historical Society.

Loudoun History Awards highlight diverse aspects of the county’s history. They honor individuals who have made significant contributions to preserving Loudoun’s past through collection of county documents and memorabilia, preservation of historic landmarks, visual arts, writing and long-term involvement in local history organizations. Presented annually since 1993, except in 2000 when renovation of Thomas Balch Library prevented the event, these awards have recognized some of Loudoun County’s best known historians, writers, preservationists, and conservationists.

Please see our brochure Adobe Acrobat for a list of past recipients and details on the nomination process.

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Loudoun County Public Schools’ Social Sciences Fair

In fulfillment of its mission of furthering knowledge of local history and as an outreach to the community, Thomas Balch Library Advisory Commission recognizes high school students for excellence in historical research at the annual Loudoun County Public School Social Science Fair. This award complements the Loudoun History Award which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to preserving Loudoun’s past through collection of county documents and memorabilia, preservation of historic landmarks, visual arts, writing and long-term involvement in local history organization.

The award was established in 2008 as part of The Town of Leesburg’s 250th Anniversary Celebration.


  • June 2008: Alexander Isaac Bailey of Leesburg's Heritage High School in the category "Geography and Mapping" for his entry Historic Sites in Leesburg
  • June 2009:  Allison Balik of Sterling's Park View High School in the category "Local History" for her entry  How did the Civil War Affect the Citizens of Loudoun County
  • June 2010:  Thomas C. Williams, Jr. of South Riding's Freedom High School in the category "Local History" for his entry How Has Development Hurt the Dairy Industry in Loudoun County?
  • June 2011:  Olivia Joy Corso of Leesburg's Tuscarora High School in the category "E-History" for her entry Who Did the Battle of Ball's Bluff Affect and How Did It Change the Lives of the Men Involved?


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Last updated: 7/9/2014 11:03:23 AM